Some of my favorite memories in the classroom center around taking my students out on their weekly nature journaling adventures. And based on their continued comments, even in later years, the students also loved the nature journaling. Whether it was helping our kindergarten book buddies delight over watching a bee pollinate a flower or walking together through the trees looking for the first flowering buds of spring, I was thrilled with my students. I loved watching their developing awareness of the world and how they learned to care for their environment.

young student observing pinecone through a magnifying glass while outdoors nature journaling
Journaling Nature is a great way to get kids outside and still writing.

What is Nature Journaling?

Nature journaling is as easy as it sounds. It focuses on writing about observations and feelings about nature, particularly the nature around you. Focusing on nature allows students to develop an awareness of the life happening around them, which, hopefully, can grow into a desire to protect this same environment. 

It is also a time to help them develop their non-fiction writing in a less threatening environment. This is especially helpful for struggling writers who already have a dread of writing. When you can completely change the setting, from a classroom and desk to the open and fresh outdoors, the feeling is entirely different, and the student doesn’t even realize he is writing.  

Nature journaling also allows students to develop personal connections and real-life experiences with many science topics, including seasons, phenology, life cycles, food webs, environmental impact, and many more. Learning is always more substantial and sustainable when the student can make real-life connections. 

Student hugging a tree
Allowing students to regularly nature journal allows them to develop awareness and affection for their environment.

Nature Journaling in the Classroom

The more students can interact with nature and items of nature, then the more they will appreciate it. Having a nature center or a place to encourage journaling nature in your classroom is incredibly easy. You can fill it with books about anything nature and nature journaling examples. If you can’t spend the money on many specimens, put together a library collection of texts regarding animals, plants, habitats, bones, insects, etc. Students will browse through these books when they have extra minutes in the classroom. You can add nature journaling to your classroom centers rotation and “Early Finishers” choice board.  

Many books feature nature journaling. I have gathered many books from different authors and places and added them to my nature center, showing how to write and incorporate nature into the writing process. Jim Arnosky continues to be a favorite with my students, and while some of his books are older and hard to find, the timelessness of his work remains. 

Ask for donations when creating a nature center for the classroom.

Adding natural life objects to your nature center adds a new level of interest for the students. Need more to add? Have students bring in a favorite rock from home or gather a few fallen leaves outside. Add in a house plant. Let your students’ parents and other faculty members know you are creating a nature center for your classroom. You will be pleasantly surprised with the items that start showing up in your classroom, from rocks or skulls that people had gathering dust at home to feathers and an abandoned bird nest seen in the yard. (side note: keep nests and any feathers you get in plastic bags for several weeks to kill any mites on them. – I put mine in the freezer for a week.) When you start looking for things to add to your nature center and let it be known that you want these objects, they will appear.

I never recommend bringing in live specimens. The point of nature journaling is to see it outside, draw it from outside, and then leave it outside. It follows along with the ‘Leave No Trace’ philosophy (check out the ‘leave no trace philosophy’ here) and one the students need to learn to respect.

What do you need for a nature journal?

You need very little to write a nature journal. Just a piece of paper and a pencil. I usually create a nature journal for each student and let them color or decorate the front (you can check out my nature journal here). Once they spend time and effort working on the cover, they are already attached to their journal. I give each student a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, and the students put their journal, a pencil, a sharpener, and colored pencils into the bag. That is what we go out with. I like having the cover be cardstock because it adds firmness to the booklet when writing from your lap. I have seen others take out convenient clipboards, but when I take the students on any hike to journal, we leave the clipboards at school.


A few people have asked about what we all sit on outside. The simple answer is the ground. Unless it has been raining, the ground works just fine. Please remind students to watch where they will sit, especially if you are journaling anywhere near a cactus. I don’t know how they manage to do it, but someone always finds a cactus. And sits on it. 

I have learned that teachers need to bring a little more with them if they take the kids any distance from the school. I always have a backpack with me and carry a simple first aid kit in case a kid falls or scrapes a hand or knee, my phone, extra sharpeners, wet wipes, tissues, a whistle, and a trash bag. Students see trash out and get agitated when they can’t pick it up and throw it away at school.

How to Get Started with Nature Journaling

Just do it.  

I make sure my principal knows and approves the journaling first. Then I send notes home to parents to let them know when we are going to go out. If you can schedule a consistent day and time that you are going to journal, parents are aware and can help ensure kids have dressed appropriately. And sometimes they like to join in if they have available time.

Make sure to get permission from your parents if you plan to take the students off school grounds. You don’t have to. But my school for several years backed up to the foothills of the rocky mountains. Of course, we went off the school grounds. I brought a phone and school radio, so I was always reachable, and I scheduled nature journaling for the same time and day so parents knew where we would be.

To get started with nature journaling in your class: 

      Show examples of nature journaling entries.  

      Discuss what nature journaling is.  

      Get a nature journaling teacher pack together.

      Walk around outside and pick a good location and time for you and your students to journal. You don’t want to choose to nature journal in the backfield if that is a time it is also used by    

      several classes for recess, for example. Your best time would be early morning. Or middle of the day.

The students will be excited about the location if you are excited about the area. They love being outside. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Young girls outside looking at plants
Nature can be found in even the smallest of places.


First lesson

The first time I take the students to nature journal, I don’t bring journals. We use this time to focus on behavior and expectations. I have learned that the more time I take in this initial process, the better the year goes. I don’t rush this process. The students need to know precisely what is expected in their journaling and behavior. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to begin nature journaling. That way, these norms, and procedures are put into practice immediately, and you and your students can enjoy an entire year of journaling outdoors.

When I introduce journaling, I show a few examples of journal entries. We discuss what the kids notice. Then I introduce the concept of all of us going to nature journal. We go outside to our chosen location that I had scouted out earlier) and sit and observe for 10 minutes. Then we go back to the classroom. After going back inside, we discuss what kinds of things we could have written and make notes on chart paper. We discuss what nature journaling should look and sound like when journaling – chart this. And we make certain agreements about the respect of all things nature: no killing (even insects – everything serves a purpose), no polluting, etc. Students are introduced to the concept of leave no trace. We formally write a list of agreed-upon behaviors and sign it. This is not a list of “don’t dos” but positively stated behaviors. For example, we respect all living things, leave them alone to do their job, draw and write what we see, and leave nature for all to enjoy.

young boy looking at plant through magnifying glass while nature journaling
Let students learn through nature.

Rainy day ideas

No matter how well you plan, there will be a few days that you won’t be able to go outside and nature journal because of the rain. This is an excellent opportunity to allow them to make close-up observations in the classroom. You may have a classroom plant they can draw, focusing on one leaf or a cactus spike. Or you have a window where they can watch the rain and make notes of the sky, clouds, or even the way the rain runs down the window pane. Now is the time to bring out leaves and insect specimens or even pull up butterfly or beetle colors on the internet and allow students to practice blending and coloring to be scientifically accurate.


What to always include on every entry

There are four things that you must include in every journal entry. That is the date, time, place, and weather.  

The Date

We want students to pay attention to the changing of the seasons, so the date is necessary to record the differences they see at different times of the year.  

The Time

Recording the time allows students to see the changes in the same place at different times of the day. You don’t have to be specific down to the minute. If you don’t have access to a clock, no worries; the time of day can be as easy as ‘mid-morning or ‘late afternoon.’ The shadows change. The insect and bird populations are usually active at different times of the day.  

The Place

Note where you are. When comparing entries at different times of the year, it is nice to note where you are. After a few times, it is easy to forget where you were for a specific entry, especially if you move around from time to time. So unless you spend the whole year going back to one spot, note the location.   

The Weather

You can write the actual temperature with access to a smartwatch or phone or even make a few observations. Is it sunny? Windy? Cool or warm? Additionally, students may want to note if the weather is different from the previous few days. If the weather has been cool or wet for a few days, the students will notice quite a difference in the number and activity of the insects and other animals on the first warm day.

Encourage Journaling at Home

Students are always surprised when I mention that they can journal at home, too. I remind them that nature journaling can be done anywhere you can spy, even the tiniest bit of nature. I send home a family letter to encourage nature observations as a family. You can include ideas like:

      Out a window, you can watch a bird making a nest on the windowsill.  

      Observe the ants busy in their anthill next to a crack in the sidewalk.  

      Tally the different kinds of birds you see and participate in a bird count.  

      Keep count of the types of clouds that appear in the sky throughout the week and see if you can start to see patterns in cloud formations and weather predictions. 

      Journal on vacation. Observing nature in different environments is always interesting.

Young student holding up  a "one earth" photo to show that the earth should be saved
Nature journaling extends into other learning for the student.

Culminating Activities and PBL Ideas to Extend the Learning

There are many ways to incorporate nature journaling into a PBL project or create a culminating activity.

  1. Create a nature guide for your area based on your students’ nature journaling.
  2. Create a nature walking path or make guides that younger students can use the guides when they are outside in nature.  
  3. Make books. Students can use their phones or cameras to take photos of plants and animals and create nature guide booklets along with their notes and drawings. You can publish it in the classroom or make a copy for each student at the end of the year. Some of my favorite nature journals have included descriptions, drawings, and actual photos of the specimen.
  4. Create a nature journal for a younger class and bring them outside to nature journal with their own personal guides. I love seeing my students interact as experts with their kindergarten book buddies. 
  5. Showcase colored copies of different entries of your students’ works in a parent night at the end of the year.  
  6. Create a John Muir award for the top naturalists in your classroom.  
  7. Create a digital slideshow to play so that different entries and photos from your year of nature journaling can be celebrated.  
  8. Have a few students write and present their personal experiences. Include local nature stores, nature centers, or master gardeners.

How Nature Journaling helps in other areas of writing.

Nature journaling helps students make connections.

Use the seasons to extend their learning into poetry writing. If you have been journaling outside in the fall weather and enjoying the changing of the season, then it is the perfect time to start a fall poetry unit or begin a fall adventure story. I like incorporating an adventure at the fall fair because so many students attend the State Fair in the fall.  

If you have been outside in the spring and enjoying a bug hunt or journaling observations of the new leaves, you can find now is the time to write Spring Poetry, including haikus to nature or a spring adventure through the woods. (need to add a little excitement? Make the walk through the woods and include a narrowly missed interaction with a bear just waking up from his winter’s nap.) 

 The more connections kids make or, the more students can use the same vocabulary and experience in different forms of writing, the stronger their writing will be. They will be better prepared. And they will be more confident and feel more successful in their writing attempts. 


Happy Journaling,


Writing Spring Poetry